Portraits of Hope is a collection of original portraiture completed by some of the world’s greatest portrait artists, inspired by the women of The Lovelady Center. Each painting conveys the strength, faith and resolve that the women and leaders of The Lovelady Center have faced as they overcome life’s challenges and trust in God to make them whole again.
Art, especially portraiture, has always been a major passion in Beverly McNeil’s life. McNeil, who owns Portraits, Inc. and the Beverly McNeil Gallery in Birmingham, is also heavily involved in the ministry of The Lovelady Center. McNeil combined her love of art and commitment to helping women in need through a special program, Portraits of Hope.
You can support this Lovelady project by purchasing a copy of the Portraits of Hope book for $45 plus tax. $10 to ship. For more information visit portraitsofhope.charity
“I am so incredibly grateful to our God of miracles.” Amy Brekle (Portrait by Melissa Crawford)
I began using drugs as far back as middle school to numb pain from childhood trauma. As a young adult, I was a functioning addict until more hardships happened, and I began using stronger drugs to cope. By the time I was in my mid 30s I was convicted of countless drug-related charges that should have led to prison time but by God’s mercy didn’t.
By the time I was 39 I was so broken and ashamed of my past—and felt I’d betrayed all the ones who loved and cared for me—that there was no way I could make right all my wrongs. My mom would tell me that as long as I am breathing there is hope.
On Easter weekend of 2015 I decided I wanted a completely different life. Easter was April 5th, and my aunt helped me get into The Lovelady Center on April 9th. I surrendered my will that led to destruction to God’s will. Jesus removed the roots of co-dependency and drug addiction, and I was freed of all shame, guilt, and condemnation. I will never be the same.
Upon graduating the program I knew that He’d given me a heart transplant (just like in Ezekiel 36:26-27): “A new heart also I will give you, a new spirit I will put within you that moves you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” I was the stylist-overseer of New Creation Salon at the Center for about five years where I got to share hope with other women entering the program. I am going on seven years of sobriety, have a 10-year-old daughter and 20- and 24-year-old sons, and I’m loving life. I have solid support from family and friends who have an intimate relationship with the Lord, I’m a homeowner, I attend Church of the Highlands, and am employed at B4 & After Salon. I know that I would not be where I am today without the love and prayers from my family and three children. I am so incredibly grateful to our God of miracles, who made me new and restored my life.
Amy is certainly a remarkable, beautiful, and courageous woman. And Bella is a blessing as well, growing from her Mom’s overcomings. I enjoyed the opportunity to have fun with their portrait and show the importance of beautiful, supportive relationships—like the one Amy and Bella share—while also alluding to the love of the greater community.–Melissa Crawford
The pain of my past would become the purpose of my calling.” Pastor Lestley Wayne Drake (Portrait by Larry Bruce Bishop)
It was early Sunday morning around 5 a.m. as I stumbled into my bedroom. I had been out all night partying and was ready to get some sleep. But, I noticed there were several messages on my answering machine, so I pressed play and the presence of God came into my room. This is when everything changed. The messages were from a girl that I had been with earlier that night, yet God was speaking directly to me. He showed me where I was, where I had been, and where I was going. This train was on a destructive path, and I didn’t know how to get off of it. My mom and dad had seven failed marriages between them, my mom was an addict, my dad was an alcoholic, both had been in legal trouble, and I was wrapped up in my own sin with no hope in sight. As a desperate cry for help, I called out to God, “Can you still love me after all I have done?” In that moment, He came into my life with his unconditional love. It was what I had been searching for all along.
Later that day, I went to see my PawPaw, my mom’s dad, to tell him of this great encounter I had with the Lord. He had prayed for me since I was a little boy. The first question he asked me was if I wanted to live for God. I said, “Of course.” He responded, “It will cost you your life.” I had no idea what he meant, but soon my old life began to fade away and this new life began to emerge. He became my spiritual father and mentored me for the next 15 years. I fell in love with God’s word and began to share the message of hope and love everywhere I went.
Then, just a few years after my conversion, the Lord sent the most amazing woman into my life. Melissa is so tender and loving; God has used her in so many ways to balance and complete me. She has played a significant role in the healing of my own heart. We have four beautiful children (Christian, Gabrielle, Hannah, and Victoria) and have spent over 25 years together living the dream. This is by far my greatest accomplishment.
As I had struggled with helping my dad through the years with his addiction, my mom had never reached out to me about hers. Yet, one day she called and asked for help. This sent me on a search for a women’s treatment center. I knew someone who worked at The Lovelady Center, and they were able to get her into the program. This got my mom and me reconnected and also introduced me to the ministry that would soon change my destiny.
Then, my PawPaw, who had played such a significant role in my life, passed away. Just days before his passing, he told me, “Son, it’s time for you to run your race.” It was so hard to see him go, but I knew the Lord had prepared me for a great work. Melissa and I began to pray and seek the Lord for direction. We stepped out in faith and answered the call to the mission field. Just a few months later, the Lord opened the door for me to be the pastor of The Lovelady Center.
The Lord knew that all the roads I would travel would lead me to this place. The pain of my past would become the purpose of my calling. Now, over ten years later, countless lives are being restored. Every time I see a woman overcome her addiction, I think of my mom. And, every time I see a mother reunited with her child, I think of me. Isaiah 46:10 says that He knows the end from the beginning. The broken, little boy was made whole.
“I spent more time devoted to prayer and studying the truth God had for me.”Tasha Downs (Portrait by Glenda Brown)
I lived a simple life in a small country town in Alabama. I started using drugs when I was 18 after breaking up with my high school sweetheart. I had started college and had to drop out. I lost everything. There isn’t much to do on the weekends in small-town Alabama, but when you add drugs and alcohol to the mix, it made for fun times with those I grew up with.
Not only did I begin to live for parties and celebrating for any reason, I realized that drugs started to numb my pain. I became highly addicted to Xanax and other benzodiazepines, because it made me feel numb. I became accustomed to not dealing with pain or any type of emotion.
In my early 20s I was living what I thought was “the life.” I had a live-in boyfriend who always bought me the nicest of clothing and supplied the best drugs. But at 24, I was charged with distribution. My exciting life had just come crashing down. I was facing jail time or a rehabilitation program. That’s when I found out about The Lovelady Center in Birmingham.
God picked me up out of a dark place while I was there. But the closer I got to graduating the program, the more I went home on the weekends. I was still around those I had grown up with, those I had partied with. I failed a drug test because of partying one weekend and had my graduation extended for another six months. I did what I had to do to “work” my program. What I didn’t realize was that I was never really fully surrendering to the life that Jesus had died for. I had a great job, graduated the program, and even lived in the graduate apartments. I thought I was ready to move home, so I got my very own apartment and still worked a great job. Eventually I bought a car and even met a guy. But I slowly started giving in to old temptations again and ended up losing everything.
I went back to The Lovelady three years after I graduated from the program. Things were different this time. I’m not sure if God spoke to me differently or if I just got tired of living life on my terms. I decided that I wanted all that God had for me and I was going to “work” the Lovelady program as God had intended. I actually listened in the classes. I spent more time devoted to prayer and studying the truth God had for me. I graduated again, and I decided that I want to stay plugged into The Lovelady Center. Not only did God provide another graduate apartment for me, but also He supplied everything that I needed for it. I am now a supervisor at The Lovelady Thrift Store in Irondale.
Not only has God restored all I had lost, but He has given me a new family and group of people that hold me accountable to God’s very best for my life. I love to go home and visit, but I am thankful that I can apply what I learned at the Center to overcome temptations and live the life I learned to live at The Lovelady Center!
Through my art, blessings continue with the honor of assisting this wonderful organization, The Lovelady Center. I really enjoyed meeting and painting the stunning Tasha because she is so real in spirit, honest, and lives with such incredible strength. Her portrait was painted on copper because of copper’s strength and natural, earthy beauty that will last hundreds of years. We should all live by Tasha’s life lessons … Fear Not! — Glenda Brown
“I am blessed and very thankful God is working on me still.” Vivian Conwell (Portrait by Teresa Mattos)
Growing up, my life was good and bad. I was raised by my father and his wife (whom I love very much), and I had all the material things I wanted and got love from my stepmom, Edna. I had troubles in the family though, which resulted in me running away from home. During those times out I was out in the streets, I was introduced to drugs and at the age of 14 I shot drugs for the first time. I started stealing, going in and out of juvenile homes. I also sold my body—anything to get money for drugs. At the age of 17 I was certified as an adult for selling drugs and I was sent to Bryce Hospital, which had a wing for people that was on drugs. I was supposed to complete that program but I didn’t; I escaped from Bryce, and the judge put a warrant out for my arrest. I remained on the run from the law for about six months before I was caught. When I was arrested, I was sent to prison for four years, but I served 10 years because of my negative behavior in prison and because I cut another inmate with a blade. The inmate was my partner and I caught her cheating and cut her. I received a 10-year sentence for cutting her. After being incarcerated only six months on the four-year sentence, my time was ran together and I served the 10-year sentence day for day. During my incarceration, I lost my mom (Edna) and my oldest sister (Mary) to death, which I took very hard even though I acted like it didn’t bother me!
After being released from prison I started back doing drugs (smoking crack) until I no longer wanted to get high anymore. I called The Lovelady Center and was told to come on, and I did on the Greyhound bus and was picked up at the bus station by the staff at The Lovelady Center. My life changed that day in 2008. I was shown so much love I couldn’t believe it—it felt so good. I went through the program and later became a staff member. I was the supervisor over housekeeping. I moved out to my own home and then started working for this company Blackwell Ways, where I was also the supervisor. The owner of the company bought me a home, and I was supposed to buy the home from her. While living there, I had a stroke on my right side and was left alone. I lost the house and came back to where I knew I was loved and would be taken care of. I couldn’t walk but I was taken care by the Lovelady staff and clients until I no longer needed help. I now walk and I live here because my doctor don’t want me being alone and because this is the only place I will live if I can’t live in my own place. I am blessed and very thankful God is working on me still and for the chance to continue to live life. I love Him.